The Day Jesse Marsch Helped Leeds Finally Move On by Marcelo Bielsa

Injury time ran up to three minutes, the standard count when a team has taken enough of a kick.

Chelsea was defeated and the points were gone, but even as the backboard went up, Sam Greenwood was chasing Reece James, Mateusz Klich dug the defender in the back and Pascal Struijk chopped the ball off his toes. A tackle in touch, irrelevant at the time, left the stadium howling like wolves around them as 30,000 souls lined up with Jesse Marsch.

This was how Marsch wanted it, with the audience feeding on the things that drive him.

Midway through the second half, Conor Gallagher tried to shield possession near the Leeds byline, but was harassed to allow a goal kick. Forty yards away, Marsch turned to the West Stand, one arm raised and his fist clenched, the urgent game running through his veins.

Goals, wins, aesthetic appeal; it’s all important to Marsch, but none of it is more satisfying than the thrill of his players unleashing physical hell. On Sunday, the penny among the crowd he tried to win fell dramatically. Marsch’s Leeds have legs, and in more ways than one.

He stood at the entrance to the tunnel as the field reluctantly emptied full-time, pulsing and soaking up the atmosphere before a series of interviews returned him to a calmer, more measured shell.


Marsch was demonstrative throughout the game (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

Marsch had been waiting for a game like Leeds’ 3-0 win over Chelsea since the day of his appointment, ever since Leeds took a leap of faith by creating huge shoes to fill and asking Marsch to fill them. Only with such sweet football could the club continue. Only with football so sweet could the club ever hope to surpass the void between Marcelo Bielsa and Marsch. It was 90 minutes, but a statement win and an era embraced, perhaps for the first time.

“This had nothing to do with pressing, running less miles, with Leeds style,” protested Thomas Tuchel, but it is rarely the custom for a coach to sit down and admit defeat is the equivalent of surgical destruction.

However, Marsch knows what he’s looking for, what the building blocks of his team should be, and Leeds radiated it all: the pressure, the distance covered, the heat, the burn.

“He can have his own opinion,” Marsch said when Tuchel’s comments were presented to him, “but our way of playing dictated the game, almost completely.”

Opinions have surrounded Marsch for six months, not all of them complimentary and not purely about him either. Some in Leeds were skeptical of him because of his past. Some were even skeptical of him because he was American. Some were skeptical of him because he was not Bielsa or would certainly match favorably.

There was cultural resistance to the change of head coach at Elland Road and the inescapable vision that Marsch would have to prove himself and then some. Even surviving last season wasn’t enough to consolidate his reputation, apart from the fact that Leeds were determined to start this season with him in the lead.

But the final whistle after beating Chelsea had a profound effect, with people talking about the most convincing home win since promotion to the Premier League in 2020, about the Marsch starting gun sounding real. The possibility of leaving Leeds with Bielsa loomed, but here was the weather, potential and spirit packed into a team more than 10km ahead of Chelsea. “There are probably still a lot of doubts in me,” Marsch said, “and that’s okay, that’s normal. There will be people who like me, there will be people who hate me. I just want the team to love, passion and faith.

“I’ve tried not to give in, I’ve tried to show appreciation for what the club is. This league will keep you honest, so we can’t feel too good, but it’s an intelligent crowd here. Winning always helps, but in some ways performance is more important.”

This also applies to the decisions on which head coaches are judged. Leeds spent over £20m ($23.7m) to make Brenden Aaronson their first summer signing and it was the tenacity of the midfielder, the predator’s instinct that gobbled up yards in seconds, leaving Edouard Mendy in the 33rd minute. was in two minds, causing the goalkeeper to worry about a touch he couldn’t afford. Aaronson took the ball in front of the goal and an empty net was in front of him, the easiest finish he will ever have. One zero and one foot for Chelsea on the slippery slope.


Marsch was full of praise for Adams (Picture: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Leeds have pledged a further £20million to take over Tyler Adams from RB Leipzig, a second investment in a footballer who knows Marsch inside out. There is humor and skill in Adams’ play, but the core of his skill is the ability to arm himself with a shovel and dig from the first minute to the last, a constant spokes in the opponent’s wheel. It was Adams who first injected venom into Elland Road, threw himself into a 50-50 with Gallagher and crunched through the ball. Gallagher couldn’t get rid of him for the entire game. “Tyler is another kid playing the best football of his life,” said Marsch, who had previously suggested Rodrigo do the same.

Rodrigo summarizes the way football ebbs and flows. There were periods last season, not least in the last home game, when friends and allies in the stands were scarce. His deft header from a Jack Harrison free kick yesterday, his fourth goal in three games, gave Leeds a 2-0 lead and by the time he left the field late, the sound of appreciation nearly made him float. Harrison’s form can peak and fall, but his attacking number flies and delivers as much as Marsch could ask for. His half volley in the 69th minute was a bull’s eye for Chelsea, causing Tuchel to get into a pointless argument with the fourth official.

Tuchel must have wondered in his defense where he was. Three months ago, he brought Chelsea to Elland Road to tangle with a team that did nothing but turn around and die. Marsch himself had no choice but to go back to his first home game as head coach two months earlier, a 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa in which Leeds did exactly the same. March 10 was a night in which he was horribly exposed, a coach struggling for hearts and minds, in the service of a club that lost them. August 21 could be the day when those hearts and minds met his.

(Top photo: Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images)


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